Ah, to be as single-minded as a phoebe! To sing for the sheer joy of it, one’s message reduced to the bare fundamentals:
I am here.
Life is good.
Gimme some sugar.
Isn’t that really what we’re all trying to do, as artists and writers ?
Apparently not. “Whether a person blogs to make a little money, to influence opinion or just for sheer ego gratification,” says Paul Boutin of the New York Times, “amassing a large audience is the goal.” Oh. Oops.
Funny thing, though. Remember my interview with an anonymous blogger? Anon. used a slightly different yardstick to measure success in blogging:
One of my blogs lasted only a few weeks and got mentioned on instapundit and metafilter, logged hundreds of readers daily, was cut and pasted and forwarded as emails, and led to several offers of publication in whole or in part. A year before that, I had written another blog that also lasted only a few weeks. This second blog drew few readers, was not widely linked, didn’t feature my best prose, and when it ended, wasn’t archived by me or anyone else. It, however, involved my wandering in snowy woods by myself several times a week. For that reason alone, I prefer it to its more celebrated cousin.
Now this same individual, writing under a pseudonymn and working with an agent, has gotten an offer from a major publisher to bring out his second novel, which also gestated in a (now discontinued) blog — one with a daily readership probably around 100, I’m guessing. (Which still sounds like a lot to those of us who have been writing poetry for a while, and are used to thinking of a large audience as anything in excess of ten people, including family members!) Nor is he the only friend or acquaintance for whom blogging has led to authorship.
But judging by the advice proffered by most of the blogging experts I’ve read, my friends are basket-cases. Not only do they fail to measure their success by Google PageRank or Technorati authority, but their blogs often lack a tight focus; their titles usually aren’t terribly descriptive; most of them probably don’t know how to use tags to increase their SEO; and their posts often ramble far from the point and include lengthy paragraphs that few casual visitors would be able to focus on (Anon. was famous for that). But like our friend in the video above, they are hardly lacking in dedication.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the American blogging cognoscenti have completely ignored what I consider the most significant blogging story of 2008 so far. Japan’s most prestigious literary award — the Akutagawa Prize, which recognizes up-and-coming fiction writers — just went to a blogger named Mieko Kawakami. She began blogging in 2003 as a way to try and stir up interest in her music, but soon the writing took over. The prize went to her third work of fiction; all three were originally written for her blog.
Kawakami’s award-winning novella, “The Breast and the Egg,” explores the ideas of divorce, the questioning of beauty standards and other themes of solitary womanhood that are still relatively new territory in Japanese literature. Kawakami’s stories in some ways are those of Japan’s Everywoman. […]
“It’s about living, our body, the changes of the heart that accompany the body, the urgency, the problems being born, moment by moment,” Kawakami said. “The fact that we are always doing our best at living.”
So it seems that some top-notch writers are finding their voice through blogging now, even if blogging as a medium for literary expression hasn’t really caught on here yet. As someone who has helped publish bloggers and other writers and artists in a blog-enabled online literary magazine for three years, this is obviously a topic of keen interest to me. In Japan, as the AP article goes on to point out, it’s not uncommon now for writers to produce novels in installments meant to be read on mobile phones. To say that Japan has a healthy blogging culture would be a bit of an understatement.
There are more blog posts in Japanese than any other language, according to Technorati Inc., which tracks nearly 113 million blogs globally. Last year, Technorati found 37 percent of all postings were in Japanese — about 1.5 million per day. Postings in English — from Americans, Britons, Australians and people in many other countries — accounted for 36 percent of the total.
It’s not just a matter of numbers, though. In Japan, the personal or diary blog is the dominant form, not only as a percentage of the whole (which may be true here, too) but in terms of public perception. This makes sense, because letters and diaries have held a central position in Japanese literature for over a thousand years, enjoying equal status with poetry and novels. (You may have noticed the quote at the bottom of my sidebar from Sei Shonagon, whose tenth-century Pillow Book was as much like a personal blog as anything one can imagine.) Moreover, novels based on lightly-fictionalized autobiography have been a staple of Japanese literature for close to fifty years now. So a Japanese blogger with literary aspirations would not have to look far for role models or an appreciative audience.
Here in the U.S., by contrast, the literary establishment seems reluctant even to concede the value of online literary magazines, let alone blogs. The proper curmugeonly thing to do is express distaste for something so obviously deleterious to the cause of true literature, as the British novelist Doris Lessing did in her Nobel acceptance speech this past December.
What has happened to us is an amazing invention — computers and the internet and TV. It is a revolution. This is not the first revolution the human race has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, transformed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked, What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print? In the same way, we never thought to ask, How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by this internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc.
God forbid! Then again, if all the bloggers I know followed the advice of the blogging gurus, I think we would have to concede Lessing’s point.